The real-life tales of a football writer
FC United of Manchester did well to reach the FA Cup first round by knocking out a Barrow side two divisions above them.
Financially and geographically, the draw was kind: Rochdale away. FC quickly sold out their 3,200 £12 tickets for Spotland and the ESPN television money of £67,500 came at the right time for a club planning to move to their own ground in Newton Heath.
I expected FC to enjoy the occasion, but get battered by Rochdale’s best side for years.
Among United fans, I’ve got friends who loathe FC and friends who go to every FC game. Plenty are somewhere in between. Some argue about FC day after day and have done for five years. It’s all wrapped up in the bigger argument about the Glazers’ ownership of United. They’ll probably never stop, the same arguments involving the same people going round in circles: passionate, angry and entrenched views.
Nobody can deny how well FC have done in this season’s FA Cup. Spotland was bouncing, FC’s last minute 3-2 victory the shock of the first round. The away end smelt of beer, cannabis and the sulphur from flares.
FC's fans enjoy their big night in Rochdale
Under Spotland’s bright lights, it was perfect for a big cup match. FC’s victory was a reward for a lot of people who’ve put time and energy into the club, but their biggest challenge remains raising funds for their new home. They’ve drawn Brighton away in the next round, a tough prospect given the Seagulls current sit top of League One.
A more sterile atmosphere was to be found for Wolves at Old Trafford the following day. We had the 200th issue of United We Stand on sale, 21 years after we started. Manchester even stayed dry and sunny, which always helps when you’re selling.
Inclement weather affected plans the next day. I intended to climb some Lakeland fells, but snow and gales kept us below 1,500 feet and drove us into Ambleside and Stuart Clarke’s magnificent Homes of Football exhibition. Stuart’s a fine photographer – as is shown in the latest FourFourTwo.
Wednesday saw a much-hyped Manchester derby. I sat in the City end to write a newspaper piece about being a Red surrounded by Blues. The fans around me were good humoured but tense. They feared – and I hoped – for another injury time United winner. I’m not sure I could manage to be so genial if I had to watch the turgid negativity they are regularly served up at home.
Thursday brought an interview with midfielder Tom Cleverley in Altrincham. He’d played well for Wigan against Liverpool the night before and Alex Ferguson has said that he’ll bring him back from his loan spell in January. I saw his United debut goal in South Africa in 2008 before he was sent on loan to Leicester and Watford, where he was player of the season last year.
Cleverley shone against Liverpool last week
An England Under-21 regular, he’s a down-to-earth lad from a good family. He’s versatile, but prefers to play as an attacking midfielder. His nickname is ‘Chunks.’ That’s nothing to do with him being chunky, but because he when he was a young player at United he could not say ‘Tr’ properly. So swimming trunks became ‘chunks’ and so did Cleverley.
From there, it was time to do a book signing for the Rough Guide to Cult Football with Andrew Cole at the Trafford Centre. Sky Sports came along to film, together with all kinds of readers. Like the bloke who turns up with a hundred posters whenever I do a signing with a player. Cole was polite but firm.
“I’m signing three and that’s your lot,” he said. The man begged for more. Cole rightly glared at him and repeated “No.” Why does someone need 100 posters, unless they plan to sell them?
I went for dinner with Andrew after and talked about his future. He’d been a guest on MotD and has received some decent offers, for work with his boots on and off. I’m not surprised - he’s made the right impression with those he’s worked with since retiring from playing two years ago.
The week ended with a trip to Carrington to interview Michael Carrick for UWS. As a journalist, you spend a lot of time waiting around for footballers, so it was a surprise to get at call at two minutes to twelve from United. I was due to meet him at 12.
“Michael’s waiting, where are you?” asked the official.
"Hey, wait a second - this isn't Viz..."
Carrick was sitting in his club tracksuit ahead of a bus trip to Birmingham. He was pleasant and spoke for longer than we agreed. His favourite cartoon character is Viz’s Sid The Sexist.
I went down to Villa Park myself the following day on what’s affectionately known as ‘the monkey bus’, possibly because of the calibre of passengers it attracts.
A disparate group were on board. One was reading The Economist while another tried to climb fully into the overhead locker for a laugh. Like you do. He’d squeezed into the ten inch gap before, but couldn’t get his legs in this time, despite people pushing him (see below). He cursed his misfortune, much like my brother did later in the afternoon.
"Well he fitted in there before the six pints and two pies..."
He’s 34 in a few weeks and carrying several injuries. Assistant manager at Irlam, a team based to the west of Manchester between the M62 and the Ship Canal, he came on as an 81st minute sub with his team 3-1 down in an FA Vase second round game against the gloriously named Norton & Stockton Ancients from near Middlesbrough.
As well as getting involved with a scuffle with their centre half which saw the player dismissed and my brother’s face badly bruised, he scored twice in four minutes to make it 3-3. As they pushed for the winner, the home team counter-attacked and scored to make it 4-3.
The poor lad was floored, his dreams of reaching Wembley as a player over forever. FC’s, meanwhile, remain very much alive.
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